Protecting Children from Unhealthy Food and Beverage Marketing

Strategic research and communications on the impact of food marketing policies and practices on youth

The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity tracks the marketing of unhealthy foods—cereal, sugary drinks, and fast food—to children and rapidly communicates findings to inform consumers, parents, and policymakers, and to potentially influence the food industry to make changes.

Dates of Project: April 2008 to November 2014

Description: Some of the unhealthiest foods and beverages—those full of fat, sugar, and sodium and lacking essential nutrients—are marketed heavily to children. The Rudd Center conducts research to quantify how food companies market to children and teens and to evaluate how it affects their diet and health. Rudd then proactively communicates findings to parents, policy-makers, food and beverage companies, and academics.

The Rudd Center produced Cereal, Fast Food, and Sugary Drinks FACTS reports, which provide comprehensive analyses of the marketing and nutritional quality of products targeted to children and teens, including targeted marketing to Black and Hispanic youths.

In connection with the reports, the Rudd Center created websites with tailored information for researchers, advocates, and parents. The information in these reports has been widely used by public health officials and advocates, and has been a tool in encouraging food companies to improve their marketing practices.

The reports have also received substantial media coverage, including national TV, and the websites remain popular.

Dwayne C. Proctor, PhD, RWJF senior program officer and director of its Childhood Obesity team, believes that the Cereal FACTS report helped spur action. “The report and publicity around it really helped the industry make tough calls that they otherwise would have hesitated to have made,” he said.

“I think in the years to come, people will look back at what the Rudd Center has done as essentially a case study of how to make change in the world of public health.”—Steven Teret, PhD, professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

In 2012, the Rudd Center initiated a new advocacy effort to develop resources for parents and child advocates to demand change from the food industry and through local policy change.